Last Saturday the Anoka Bucs and American Legion teams played the final games at Castle Field. After a successful 62-year run, this historic ballpark will be redeveloped for HealthPartners clinic.
But where did Anokans play before Castle?
The first record of baseball in Anoka may be this 1869 Anoka County Union item: “The young men of Slabtown have, or are about to form a National Base Ball club. They have a nice place with their base all made, and plenty of boys to play.”
We don’t know where this “nice place” was but likely in the neighborhood.
Neighborhood pickup games were common in those early years. But city growth drove ball fields to the edge of town.
The first citywide game was played May 22, 1875 on the vacant “Court House square.”
But two years later the court house was built rendering this location off limits.
In 1877, the Union reported that local teams “formed in procession on the square and headed by the Northstar Brass band, followed by a large crowd of citizens, marched to the ball grounds back of the residence of Geo. W. Morrill, where the clubs indulged in the national game for a citizen’s purse of some fifteen dollars.”
This was at the southeast corner of Main Street and Seventh Avenue.
A new location was needed almost every year.
Typically, a manager organized a team and made arrangements for the grounds. Ball parks were on private property and improvements – fence and grandstand – were constructed by the team.
In 1891, after playing their first game at the fairgrounds, “a little hitch occurred between the respective managements of the base ball club and the fair grounds, which will result in the base ball club having new and first-class grounds of its own.”
Club manager E.L. Mantor secured a field southeast of the Main Street and Fifth Avenue intersection.
The field was laid out, the grounds prepared, the entire site secured by an eight-foot high fence and a grandstand constructed, all within four days to be ready for the first game.
The club sold advertising on the fence facing Main Street.
In 1892 the process started over. A different location was leased northeast of Sixth Avenue and Polk Street.
But local residents petitioned the city to declare the ball park a nuisance. After inspection, the council found no nuisance and the games were played.
This is now Rudy Johnson Park.
In 1893, games were played at the fairgrounds.
In 1897, two potential sites were blocked by neighborhood opposition. Finally, the club settled on “a park on lower Second Avenue, on what is known as Woodbury’s point.”
For 12 years this was a favored destination for teams from Elk River, Monticello and Minneapolis.
Today, homes are there where Oakwood Drive begins.
In 1909 the ball grounds moved to the southwest corner of Main Street and Seventh Avenue. A classy park was constructed with a huge grandstand. For six years this field hosted city league and town team play.
This location is now home to several businesses.
No games were played from 1915 to 1919. The boys went to war. There was little activity during the early 1920s.
But in 1928 a new ball park was constructed at the southeast corner of Seventh Avenue and Monroe Street. This was the battleground for organized league play through 1938.
Now there are single-family homes here.
In 1941 a site near the corner of Park Street and Green Avenue (now Sorenson Park) became the baseball grounds hosting league games. But years later when an upgrade with lights was planned, neighbors objected.
Then the Fair Board offered a fairgrounds location but the city council declined.
Finally, the city and American Legion struck a deal for a new baseball park.
Greenhaven Park opened in 1950 at the entrance to Greenhaven Golf Course.
Two years later it was re-named Willard Castle Memorial Field in honor of Mr. Castle, who lost his life while working in the City Water and Light Department.
Looking back over 140 years, Anokans have played baseball on more than a dozen fields. Now we will enjoy baseball at the new Castle Field Stadium on Seventh Avenue North.
Bob Kirchner is a local historian, seminary student and city of Anoka’s part-time community development director.